Video: Girl dies after being thrown from bridge

updated 1/29/2009 3:00:51 AM ET 2009-01-29T08:00:51

A man pulled over on a highway bridge, took his 4-year-old daughter out of the car and dropped her over the side to her death Thursday in Australia's second-largest city, police said.

Arthur Freeman, 36, of Melbourne was later charged with the murder of 4-year-old Darcey Iris Freeman. But he did not appear in court because police said he was psychologically unfit to do so. A magistrate ordered him to be held in custody while an investigation continues. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

Police did not allege a motive.

Police and court officials said the man was involved in custody battle with his wife over the couple's three children, and had appeared in a family court on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The two other children, boys aged 6 and 8, may have been in Freeman's SUV when he allegedly pulled over on the West Gate Bridge in morning peak-hour traffic and dropped the girl 190 feetĀ  into the Yarra River, said Detective Inspector Steve Clark.

'Dreadful set of circumstances'
Stunned witnesses called police, who were able pull her from the river within 10 minutes of receiving the alert. She was barely alive, with multiple internal injuries, Clark said. She was flown by helicopter to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, which said she died about four hours after the fall.

"It's a dreadful set of circumstances," Clark told reporters. "Often you think you've seen it all but you haven't."

About an hour later, Freeman was arrested with the two surviving children outside the family court, where witnesses described him as visibly distressed, Clark said.

Clark said the children's mother had been informed but did not give details.

The names of the victim and suspect were cited in court, but authorities have not released names of other members of the family.

Police originally did not identify either the suspect or victim as is common in Australia with cases involving children, but their names were cited later in court.

Eight-lane freeway
The alleged murder happened about 9 a.m. on the bridge, an eight-lane freeway that is the main trunk road from downtown Melbourne to the west.

A court official, who declined to be named because she was not authorized to speak to the media, said the custody hearing over the children had ended Wednesday without a ruling because the parents had agreed to share access.

The tragedy shocked Australia, leading news national bulletins and prompting an outpouring of sympathy.

"I just shuddered when I heard about it," Victoria state Premier John Brumby told reporters. "You just think, how can that happen?"

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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